A Thoughtful and Thorough Academic Job Ad
What if I told you it was possible for an advertisement for an academic position to explain why the hiring department is hiring in a particular area, provide a profile of the kind of colleague the existing faculty are looking for, describe the work environments the successful candidate will find themself in, convey the values the department aims to promote, and detail how the hiring process will work?
You’d probably say, “sure, that is well within the bounds of the possible.”
Yet we don’t often see such ads.
Perhaps that will change, now that the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma (OU) has provided such a terrific model for them.
In an attempt to, in the words of OU philosopher Amy Olberding, “make the job seeking process more humane and open,” her department has created a detaied job ad with 10 hyperlinked parts, including: “Why are we hiring in virtue theory?”, “Who are we looking for?” “Teaching in the Philosophy Department”, “Our hiring process,” “Do you have questions for us?” and more.
The ad material is written with a combination of warmth and frankness. For a sample of its flavor, here’s the content from the “More about the Philosophy Department” section:
We recognize that investigating a department and even interviewing in person might not yield answers to the sorts of things you’d really like to know. Here are some of the things about us that might not be obvious or that you might be reluctant to ask directly.
The department is committed to being pluralistic about intellectual traditions, methods, and philosophical work. Our faculty do generally each have the usual defined areas of research—some are doing philosophy of language, some are doing history, some are doing ethics, and so on—and most of us work in the analytic tradition (even as some of us aren’t completely sure what that really means). Yet despite our many and varied specialties, faculty are not off in silos, each working away individually. We don’t always understand each other’s specialties, but we are open-minded and ready for enlivening philosophical conversation across our different interests and specialties. We have regular and special events—from visiting speaker colloquia to pedagogy sessions to reading groups—designed around the joint goals of learning new things together and inviting department members to share their work and interests with each other. We don’t treat conversation as combat; we do treat active and lively curiosity as our steady aspiration.
Our more formal department structures and working ethos reflect our commitment to making our corner of the profession as welcoming and inclusive as possible. We strive for shared and equitable departmental governance and service. Our formal policies—e.g., evaluation of faculty, hiring, and graduate admissions—are self-consciously designed to minimize bias and promote fairness. Several faculty in the department have additionally taken on roles in the department, university, or profession that work toward the goal of greater diversity and improved inclusive practices.
We are committed to making our workplace operate well for those in it, whatever their life circumstances. For example, we make efforts to schedule events, meetings, and colloquia in sensitivity to those responsible for children, whether that means scheduling early so faculty with children in school or care can fully participate or welcoming families and children to our informal events. Faculty children have even attended faculty meetings (though very few have enjoyed them). The chair is responsible for course scheduling and makes concerted efforts to attend to individual faculty members’ needs wherever possible. We are especially conscious of the needs of junior, pre-tenure faculty. The department strives to protect our pre-tenure faculty from excessive service and sees their successful passage to tenure as one of our goals.
Our department has many of the constraints—financial, staffing, and in our physical spaces—that you might expect of a large state university. But the department makes a point to work within our constraints to assist faculty in excelling in their work. For example, funds for travel are distributed equitably to all faculty, and the department makes every effort to utilize whatever extra-departmental funding we can to ensure that faculty can pursue their intellectual goals. We likewise have a commitment to aiding faculty seeking external grants and funding, and our faculty have a record of substantial success in seeking special funding through general university channels: e.g., junior faculty summer support grants, Humanities research grants, presidential and named professorships, and teaching awards.
The staff who support our department are central to our well-functioning and are prized by the faculty. Even as they fulfill demanding duties for the department and university, they are invaluable supports to faculty working in a large state university filled with the kinds of byzantine bureaucracy at which such institutions excel. Faculty can find in them a resource for questions no one else in the department (or perhaps on earth) can answer.
You can check out the whole thing here.
As a job seeker I think this is not all that helpful. The intention is good and some parts of it are helpful but there’s way too much text and formal niceties. If the point is to sell the department on its good groove, so that the candidate will choose to apply, then this is not the reality for most postdocs. The general rule in my experience is to apply to any place that will realistically consider you. So the best would be to make clear who you are not looking for but I understand that doesn’t present the good groove. That’s why it’s so difficult to compose a good ad. But it’s great to see the effort and empathy with the job seekers!Report
One thing that I do really like about this is an explanation of “Why we’re hiring in area X”. It matters whether it’s more about teaching a particular class, being able to supervise students, being a colleague who people already there can talk to, or to fulfill externally imposed ambitions that the faculty don’t share.
“More about the department” seems of limited use though. For departments that can honestly claim to be collegial and supportive, this works, but what about the departments that aren’t so collegial, or don’t support junior faculty? Are they going to honestly admit that? Should applicants assume from the lack of statements like the above that a department would be miserable?
As an applicant, what I care about more than pretty talk is whether hiring departments (and universities), in the design of their application process*, demonstrate care for junior faculty. Not having to redesign my research and teaching statements for each idiosyncratic set of requirements, not requiring my letter writers to fill out annoying forms, not requesting syllabi on specific topics, only requesting a diversity statement if your department can answer the same questions… I do assume that departments that make idiosyncratic requests are going to be annoying places to work, either because the faculty are clueless about what the job market is like, or because they know but still choose to take advantage of what they perceive to be a buyer’s market.
The same thing goes for the interview process. Letting candidates know what you’re looking for instead of making us guess would be helpful and informative (even if there are competing interests, knowing about them would be great), but requiring job talks or teaching demos to be geared to very specific audiences or topics (and requiring both for jobs that focus on one or the other) is an unreasonable demand on people’s time. Likewise with claiming to be accessible and family friendly, then holding interviews that last 14 hours with hardly any breaks. I was so relieved not to be offered that job.
Lots of the most highly qualified people are leaving the field because of this kind of behavior. If you want good candidates, make it easy for us to apply.
* yes, we’ve all heard your excuses about how your university requires the use of a specific piece of application software, and your hands are tied. If you aren’t willing or capable of getting things that are harmful changed in your university, that’s informative about what it will be like to work there.Report
If you aren’t willing or capable of getting things that are harmful changed in your university, that’s informative about what it will be like to work there.
I think you will come to find that this is much less easy than you are suggesting. The inability to avoid and move around top-down bureaucracy is indeed a bad thing about working in many universities, and is something important to know about, but it’s much less obvious to me that it says anything about the _people_ working there, as you’ll probably come to find.Report
I appreciate the effort, but I second what Postdoc says above. This is way too much verbiage for way too little information, and realistically I’m going to send my dossier almost everywhere where I think I might be a good fit.
What I want out of a job posting is (i) what departmental needs this position is supposed to satisfy and (ii) which documents you need from me to assess whether I can satisfy these needs. Ideally, I’d like this information as concisely as possible, and with the least amount of opaque, corporate-esque language.
Here’s what I don’t need: your university’s focus grouped “mission statement” (usually with a signal to noise ratio below the threshold of measurement), your incredibly strained, visibly written by at least 5 committees “diversity statement” (every department has one, we all agree on the letter of this, none of them have any predictive power about the practice at your department), your self-assessment of your research environment (nobody is going to write something negative, so this has nil informational value).
Nice snippets about your departments various “commitments” fall squarely into the latter category.Report
I agree with my co-marketeers above, and want to add: How is it that we applaud a job ad as progressive if it still doesn’t state a salary?
The salary is subject to negotiation, you say? Give us a range. They are capable of doing it in the UK (and for all non-academic competitive jobs), too.
Some of us have a family to feed and no extra-money from where we come from. It would be nice to know whether we can survive on the salary before we put in hours, days, and weeks of work just for the application process alone.Report
I don’t disagree; transparency about salaries is generally good for workers and I’d like to see more of it.
That said, University of Oklahoma is a state school. So it’s not hard to learn how much philosophers there earn. Just Google “University of Oklahoma salaries”. I’d guess that resulting data are a defeasible guide to future salaries and useful for negotiation.Report
“The ad material is written with a combination of warmth and frankness” …. and self-congratulation.Report
Before I say anything, I should first make clear that I speak not for my department but merely for myself…
I regret that some here find our efforts off-putting. To be clear, this is a supplement to the usual, brief PhilJobs ad. We do of course instruct candidates on what to submit and nothing we require is of the sort flagged here for concern. We just ask for what every job candidate will already have on hand – c.v., sample, cover letter, recs. If we want more, we will follow up selectively. I’m not sure how our effort at just giving people information has been turned into a lament about special requirements and idiosyncratic demands… unless inviting the interested to follow a link from PhilJobs to this more elaborate ad would count as a “demand.”
But, to the several postdocs critiquing the ad, I just wanted to offer that most of the things you say you want to know are in fact in the link Justin posted: We discuss the hiring process in as much detail as allowed – from timeline to flyout arrangements to our constraints in what we can say. True, we can’t post salary (wish we could). We do say what we’re looking for, even addressing the kinds of desiderata that can be in play – the sorts of things that aren’t required but that could operate as a plus and that an applicant could flag for notice if they’re apt. In short, we tell you all the factors we have in play. We also literally do speak to our efforts to *not* have candidates on flyouts uncomfortable – if you get a flyout with us, we will in fact ask about what will work for you before making arrangements. So, while I understand that you don’t want to know all we said, a lot what you said job seekers like to know is right there and spelled out. I suppose you didn’t try the link that Justin posted and relied only on the excerpt? I hope so anyway. I think most of what you say you want to know is actually in what we have up. I agree with what I take to be the sentiments behind a lot of what you say: it’s all hard, all the way down, for people on the job market. We were not trying to add to that, but to be helpful and more humane, and I’m sorry if that isn’t clear or wasn’t effective.
More generally, let me just say that I am really sorry that what we’ve done has just worked for some to amplify the cynicism surrounding these processes. Obviously, that was not our intent. Nor was “self-congratulation.” Honestly, that made me gasp a bit – just because it’s so very much at odds with what’s motivating me at least. In case it escaped attention, our university is located in Oklahoma and not everyone is eager to move here. We were trying to signal what our department is like because we recognize that the vast majority of people applying will have never been here and all they know of Oklahoma will have come from national news which, when it features Oklahoma, is rarely enticing. So, rather than self-congratulation, we were aiming to signal that Oklahoma might offer more in terms of quality of life and working arrangements to a philosopher than would be at first obvious.Report
I had a very similar reaction to Tom Hurka – probably even worse. I found it all very much centered on how the department wants/likes to see itself and full of the kind of jargon one sees from HR. As someone who already went through some jobs – I found it also misleading (in the sense, that I can’t take it too seriously – all departments would say such things, I assume – even if doing research in any department is mostly a solitary thing – we are not corporate teams working on some particular product). What matters is – salary, benefits, teaching load, availability of TA’s, research and/or start-up funds, sabbaticals – just the data.. the rest – what the department likes, sees itself, whether it is divided or not, if it has any vision for future or whatever – that changes and in my experience, the way things are advertised rarely fits individual experience. British job ads often have very detailed “details” attached to them – those are also about 70% useless besides the hard data.Report
Thank you for your clarification. May I ask why hiring departments can’t post salary? It’s of course by no means specific to your department, but I have been wondering about this for a long time (and every time when comparing to UK ads). And when I read the title of this blog post, my first hope was: So, they’re finally posting salary? (And yes, I did check the links provided to first check that it really wasn’t the case, before I complained.)
Perhaps this topic would be worth a blog post on its own.Report
I think part of the issue is that in the US, the salary is negotiable to a very great extent in the right situation (counter-offers and so on), whereas this is not so in Europe (or not to that extent). Similarly with some other things (like course reductions, research funds, and so on). So it’s intentionally vague. Still some things are pretty much set in stone and could be made available, perhaps.Report
I know that it is negotiable, but that wouldn’t keep anyone from at least posting something like a minimum salary, starting salary, the amount the negotiation is starting from, or so. I’d guess that this number would be helpful for many of us in order to know whether we can realistically live from the proposed salary even if we don’t have a second offer, or perhaps if we need to negotiate for other things first, etc.Report
At my university the faculty have no real idea what the minimum or starting salary are, and HR would never authorize us to post an ad stating any such thing. Salary offers are made directly from the Dean, and only by them, at the stage an offer is made.Report
My impression is that administrators like to negotiate with people who have no actionable information to guide said negotiation, because it makes it easier on their (the administrators’) end.Report
As someone on the market, I do appreciate the effort and find it, ultimately, helpful. But I also had, first, a negative reaction as some others here did as well. As we all know, jobs are difficult to get, applications are many, time is little. So having directed to a webpage with a lot of extra information — no matter how useful — seems first kind of “extra pressure”, with the immediate reaction that “I don’t have time for this”. (Of course it is optional; but if you assume that most of the other applicants will read the material, it is difficult to neglect it.)
Overall I think if every department did something similar, the results would be better. Perhaps fewer but more relevant candidates would apply; there would be less waste of time both for the candidates and for the hiring department.
(Based on the job ad alone I would have applied to Oklahoma; now I won’t since they really do want a researcher in VE which I’m not.)Report
We’ve talked a bit before about how, sometimes, search committees want too much from applicants: six letters, course syllabi, diversity statements, how the candidate fits into the (idiosyncratic) mission of some particular program, etc. And how none of that’s really necessary when there’s 300+ applicants, maybe some streamlined application makes sense for that, then the search committee can ask for more from the top whatever (e.g., 20, 50, etc.).
But it seems like this is almost exactly the same sort of thing, just in a different guise. There is *so much irrelevant information* on these pages, especially for the 80%+ of candidates who won’t get more than a first read. And the implication (intended or not) is that those candidates are supposed to go mine all this information, tailor some application to match it, and so on. So that’s going to lead to candidate anxiety, wasted time, or both.
So why not just not make such a big deal about this stuff, and only release it to short-listed candidates? It’d seem less like a show-off move, and more like something that could actually streamline the interviewing (not the dossier) process.
And, most generally, both the less that job ads say, plus the less they ask for, the better. “We’re hiring in ethics, send us a CV and writing sample.” Beyond that, you’re just wasting *everyone’s* time, from candidates’ to search committees’ to office staffs’ to HR’s (by creating more questions someone has to answer), and so on. Then just let search committees ask for more detail on whomever they’re actually serious about.Report
I am a retired prof and seeing this and other hiring related articles, am so glad I need not apply anywhere. Maybe that disqualifies me from commenting or makes me more objective, but once I saw this ad I would never apply. Maybe that it’s OU, I might, but in general any long and winding road explaining why we are hiring in X field tells me there are serious problems to look forward to if you get the job. Over-thinking and over-talking such issues being a departmental trait; imagine department meetings! Do they last 6 hours?
But seriously, too long, too much unneeded info. It smacks more of justifying the hiring to the department and less of info to applicants.
I suggest the “why”, expectations of new person beyond teaching, maybe dept’s philosophical orientation (which they do provide). Think of what you would want to know, keep it short, simple, truthful and direct.Report
Again, speaking for myself, not my department…
The reactions here are very discouraging and I feel like I should at least try to clarify our aims since some of the more recent comments seem to suggest that our job posting is but preening or showing off or, at worst, that people should assume the worst of us and our department’s functioning.
Most basic is a concern that the current job market has applicants treated as supplicants – effectively that there is no burden on the job-offering department to do anything other than to have and post a job. Applicants do not need to be recruited, they need not be given information, and the processes for selection can be entirely opaque – just post a job and let them scramble. We self-consciously sought to avoid that and give information we thought respectful and considerate of the interests job seekers have – e.g., that they want to know what a place is like, what the job expectations and work arrangements are, and what the process will be (as far as that can be communicated). That is, what some are deriding as HR-speak was a (clumsy) effort to treat job applicants the way you treat people with interests of their own that you can seek to fulfill. We additionally thought more information important for other factors: the specific and somewhat unusual nature of the position, that it’s open to associates who might need more reasons to apply, that getting diverse applicant pools profits from describing what the work climate is like where that is good (and ours is), and, most basically, what I said above about Oklahoma itself.
I realize that some at least are critiquing the form more than the substance of what we offered. Mea culpa. We’ve learned from these responses. But the motivation I describe above is one I still have – how to treat job applicants as more than supplicants. What I don’t know is what, in the present market, constitutes the most respectful and considerate way to approach this process – though we all agree about, e.g., keeping early requests for documents to a minimum. My uncertainty is about anything beyond this. Some of the comments suggest that it is disrespectful and inconsiderate to give candidates more to read because while there might be information they could use, it’s information they won’t use – i.e., in prudence you apply for anything remotely fitted to you so extra information is just extra effort when the decision to apply is already a given. Worse, more information gives applicants the agonized choice between tailoring documents to the information or not doing so while knowing that there is information they might have used to good effect. At absolute worst, the reality for many applicants is that “beggars can’t be choosers” and so touting your department as a nice place is like laying a feast in front of someone who won’t get a bite of the meal – for all of the applicants not chosen, it just reads as insult to injury. This is some of what I have gotten from the comments and I can see the point in all of them.
I am not here trying to justify our effort as the best or right way to approach these realities. I just wanted to clarify, I suppose, what our aims were. Respect and consideration of applicants’ interests was the goal. We thought providing more information, especially about our process, was a good stab at something a little better than the usual, but maybe not or maybe not in the way we did it. But I hope one outcome of this conversation is not to discourage other departments from experimenting with efforts to make things more humane. It’s far easier just to do the usual and if you try something else, it may well backfire, as it appears to have done here. But one thing amplified by the job seeker comments above is that we do need to do more to protect job seekers from feeling like beggars and supplicants. There aren’t enough jobs and there’s no way around that reality. But when there is a job to offer, the question is how to manage the inevitably stressful aspects of the competition for it so that job seekers are treated as humanely as possible without increasing the burdens inherent to job seeking. I don’t know what the answer to that is, but I hope other departments will be looking for the answer too and not be discouraged from trying by this conversation.Report
Amy Olberding: I do not think most people (well, not me at least) thought you were trying to show off or something. What I wrote was just a reaction to how I would perceive the ad as a job seeker. I think everybody appreciates the sentiment, just perhaps not the execution.
Now speaking for myself- I never felt, as a job seeker, like a beggar – and I went on the market maybe 7-8 times. The only thing I missed was the kind of information Jon Light is pointing to below (the notices). As someone with already a job, I missed the various information (like benefits and so on), but that is only because I was already in a job. In general, I do not think the situation in philosophy is that bad – there are around 300-350 jobs posted annually (I think, approximately) and there appears to be approximately 700-1000 applicants annually. So that is 1:2 or 1:3 ratio. That might sound bad but in comparison with, say, literature or other fields it is actually I think quite good. People feel sometimes anxious about jobs, but that is just the function of being on the job market – you might fail and you might not get a job in chosen field. Just like when one applies for grad schools (where the ratios are even worse).
I also very much doubt that the ration could be much lower without impacting the quality – if departments were producing more or less as many PhDs as there are jobs, many job searches would fail as the departments would be unable to hire the candidates they would want. In fact, I think it would have the effect that the top departments’ hires would be approximately the same, but the rest of the schools would be left with less good hires (I am asserting the perhaps controversial view that not all PhDs are equally good candidates).Report
350 jobs? Maybe that used to be the case, but not any more. E.g., right now there are 135 active TT jobs advertised on philjobs. Probably about half of these is ethics or some kind of applied philosophy. In my field specifically, there was 1 job; I imagine there are about 25-30 qualified candidates on the market now for that one.
Anyway, not for complaining but for clarification.
Also, based on some hirings I have seen, it is still often the case that the “departments [are] unable to hire the candidates they want,” simply because (1) that candidate didn’t apply; or more likely, (2) they did not pick out the right one from the few hundred applications. Maybe with efforts like OU’s, this would get better — the ads would become a bit more targeted.Report
Since August 1 2019, philjobs advertised 309 job ads (some are for more than 1 position). Obviously not all are TTs ,but they are still jobs. There are then some jobs not advertised there (incl. community colleges and so on) and jobs outside of US open to US graduates. More ads will appear in the next few months. So yes, I’d say at least 350 jobs annually.Report
From job applicants’ perspectives, I’d bet the most important–and really only thing that can be done better than it’s usually done–is communication about timelines and statuses (i.e., it’s not putting a trove of information up online). I bet 95% of jobs don’t do the following notices:
1. We’ve received your application and are reviewing it. (Not the HR auto, but a real letter from the Department.)
2. We’ve made our short list. You’re not on it.
3. We’ve made our fly-out list. You’re not on it.
4. An offer’s gone out (to someone else).
5. We’ve completed the hire.
The absolute worst is radio silence *after* fly-outs: so many candidates are brought to campus, spend a ton of time preparing, then literally never hear anything back. But even (2) is super useful: people can stop checking their email every five minutes.
So what if we just tried to do these things? Note that, sometimes, HR even gets in the way of these basic courtesies. If that’s the case at your institution, I’d really recommend applying some pressure or looking for workarounds.Report
Adding to Jon’s excellent point, I would say that the “if you don’t hear back from us by [vague date, e.g., mid-February] you have not been shortlisted” approach is especially inconsiderate. If we’ve made the effort to apply, providing you with all the information you want by the date you want, please make the effort to tell us exactly when we are out of consideration. When you know that you have a serious chance at a certain position, and this vague and passive approach is used, waiting for a verdict becomes a very emotionally involved process. As the vague date approaches you do check emails compulsively. As the vague date passes your hopes start to fade, but you wonder if there could be a slight delay that means you are still in with a chance.
My case may be atypical, but on two separate occasions in which this approach was used the vague date had well and truly passed and I had gone through the emotional roller-coaster described above and finally resigned myself to the fact that they now must definitely have finalized their hiring, only to be contacted out of the blue and told that their process had been delayed and that I had made their shortlist. Finding this out was of course very nice. But the emotional process I went through beforehand was very draining and left a bitter taste.Report
I agree that this is a bit of information overload that might encourage applicants to spend more time than necessary trying to tailor their application to the ad. But since most of this is just linked from the philjobs ad, I don’t think that’s such a big deal. I would not have followed this link until the interview stage if I were applying. And I appreciate the sentiment behind it.
The best part about this ad, though, is that the application is done through interfolio. This makes the application process *much* smoother and less painful than most alternatives. There are many annoying aspects of the job application process, but the one I find most annoying is having to navigate one idiotic university website after another. Make yet another account! Make sure you com up with a password meets these four constraints! Fill out this form that nobody will ever look at and that duplicates information on the cv you’ve already uploaded! Ooops, you forgot to enter your exact undergraduate degree date! Please enter the date to continue! Upload the five documents the ad asks for in these three slots! Enter your letter writers’ info yet again! Yes, we need their phone numbers and physical addresses! Ad asks for *at least* three letters, but there are exactly three slots for entering letter writers’ info. Want to send more? Oh well, maybe you should email someone! Fill out this demographic form! Fill out that demographic form! And one more demographic form! You can decline to answer, but you *must* check this box declining to answer! No you can’t just skip to the end and submit!
Each one of these things is small, but they add up over the course of an application and application season. And the fact that the process can be centralized and streamlined makes them entirely gratuitous, adding to the frustration of having to waste on them. If you’re concerned about making things easier on the candidates, I recommend moving to interfolio or something similar.
Also, I second Jon Light’s suggestion to inform people of status updates in a timely manner. But probably that suggestion is so obvious that any department not doing it already simply doesn’t care about applicants’ well-being.Report
One problem with this much information loaded into the ad is that some applicants will feel obligated to waste an extraordinary amount of time tailoring their application materials to fit the department’s insanely detailed self-description. In some cases, this will be just insubstantial pandering by applicants. In some other cases where the candidate is honest in selling herself, it will be an unfortunate waste of the candidate’s time if the committee only cares about pedigree, publications, and other objective data.Report